On January 19, 2017, the U.S. Department of Agriculture published a new list of rules governing the treatment of animals that are ultimately sold to consumers as organic food.

It is suggested that these amendments to the existing organic livestock and poultry production requirements are an exercise in futility both in that they were published on the final day of the Obama administration (.. last Thursday) and at a time when Republicans control both houses of Congress.

The rules were scheduled to become effective on March 20, 2017, but on January 20, 2017 (.. last Friday), the new White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus issued a memorandum to all Executive departments and agencies to freeze all new or pending regulations. Because this is a regulation that has been published in the Federal Register but has not reached its effective date, the memo instructs that this regulation be delayed for 60 days for review.

President Donald J. Trump only announced his pick of former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue to be his Secretary of Agriculture on January 19, 2017, on the same day these rules were published, so it is premature to conclude that these rules are dead on arrival and it might be more accurate to conclude that a new notice reopening the regulation will likely occur.

Make no mistake these rules have been very controversial. Nothing here is new with much of this ‘non food quality related’ mandate coming from recommendations of the National Organic Standards Board, a USDA advisory group, dating back to 1994. And that they were among the final act of an outgoing Administration (that chose not to promulgate these rules during the last 7 years and 364 days) is what some find offensive about the federal government regulatory processes.

The Final Rule is here.

Among what is most controversial is that nothing in the rule goes to the quality of the organic meat and poultry that people will consume (i.e., there is nothing about pesticide fee, genetically modified free, fungicide free or anything along those lines). According to the USDA, this regulation “ensures organic animals will live in pasture-based systems and are produced in environments supporting their well- being and natural behavior.”

The USDA says it received 6,675 written comments in response to the proposed rule. Nearly 80% of those (5,180 comments) were form letters and the majority of these were from individuals associated with animal welfare groups.

One of the few noncontroversial, if not actually popular, provisions adds the term “ritual slaughter” to the existing definition of Humane Methods of Slaughter authorizing “slaughtering in accordance with the ritual requirements of the Jewish faith or any other religious faith that prescribes a method of slaughter” (e.g., halal) without loss of organic status.

Specifically, the Final Rule:

Requires that producers provide animals with daily access to the outdoors and that outdoor areas include vegetation and/or soil. Additionally, exit doors must be distributed to ensure animals have ready access to the outdoors. It does not allow enclosed porches or “winter gardens” to be considered outdoors.

Specifies the amount of space required indoors for chicken broilers and layers, prohibits forced molting, restricts the use of artificial light, limits the amount of ammonia in the air indoors, and requires perching space for laying chickens indoors.

And adds humane handling requirements for transporting livestock and poultry to sale or slaughter.

Congress has steadfastly refused to enact these perversions of increasingly popular organic programs that conflate issues of free range and cage free with organic. To undertake this expansion of organics without express legislative authority is wrong.

Given that this Final Rule would be at significant additional costs to consumers, but without additional benefit for those consumers of organic meat and poultry, many anticipate a new notice reopening the regulation will occur.